Active Contention

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“Active Contention”

Jude 20-25

            This morning we conclude our study in the book of Jude. Early into it I was asked why it might take four weeks on a book with only one chapter. I now know why. There is much that needs to be unpacked. The letter is abounding in word pictures and indictments toward false teachers. And it is also filled with wonderful truths of God’s grace and promised judgment to the unrepentant.

            What was supposed to be a joyous letter speaking of God’s wonderful salvation had become a letter calling Jude’s readers to contend for the faith while describing the activities of the false teachers. And so in recent weeks we have plumbed the depths of the depravity and teaching and lifestyle of these teachers. Much of this material was weighty and bleak. And it left us wondering where the hope resided. So as we draw this letter to a close, we emerge from these depths and are reminded of the responsibilities of the faithful and the character of God. This was where we began. Jude identified himself as a slave of his Lord Jesus and wrote to those who had been graciously called by the God who loved them and kept for Jesus Christ. And we will see a very close connection between where we started and where we will end up.

            I’ve entitled the sermon “Active Contention” because Jude finishes his book with steps that believers can take in the midst of dealing with false teachers. To this point he has largely provided characteristics and actions with which to identify them. But recognizing that Scripture states that this will continue to be problematic until the return of Christ, we are not to sit back, point fingers and moan, but to continue to act on what we know to be true. Let’s read the text as we get underway. READ vv. 20-25.

            The first point this morning is Constructive Contention. Our section begins with a “but you.” In contrast to the actions of the false teachers, there is a proper response to those who are faithful. “But you beloved.” That’s where we started… “beloved by God.” Now, we have several participles here. In these two verses (vv. 20-21), Jude includes “building,” “praying,” and “waiting.” Some translations have given them command force – “build yourselves.” But the primary sentence and primary command is to “keep yourselves in the love of God.” The other participles show the manner in which one keeps themselves in the love of God.

            The first way that we constructively contend is to keep ourselves in the love of God. Well, we know from verse 1 that believers are loved by God. And now Jude is saying to keep ourselves in the love of God. And we will see that in verse 24, it is God who keeps us and presents us blameless. The first question we have to answer is this: “Is the love of God our love for him, or his love for us?” This is the difference between an objective genitive and subjective genitive. Basically, is God the object or subject of the loving? I would answer with “yes.” This isn’t just an evasion of a definitive answer. I think that sometimes there need not be a clear distinction. In this case and others, our love for God is contingent on his love for us. 1 John 4.19 says that “we love because he first loved us.”

            The next question could then be raised, “does this mean that we can lose our salvation?” My answer is “no.” And here’s why. In verse 1, Jude says that those who are called are beloved in God. In the end I believe that those who are called will continue to “keep themselves in the love of God.”  Romans 8:28–30, Paul says, “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Are we now glorified? Hardly. But we anticipate this because Paul’s words here indicate that the future is certain. God will finish what he started.

            Paul continues and says that Romans 8:38–39 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. So those who have been called by God are presently justified and will be ultimately glorified and will never be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

            However, this does not leave us without any responsibilities in growing our faith and persevering. The command here is clearly that we are to keep ourselves. How about these words from Peter? 2 Peter 1:10 “10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” And Paul says in the letter to the Philippians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” 

            I think that Jude is laying out the biblical tension between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. And the bottom line, as I understand it, is those whom God elects will make their calling and election sure and will work out their salvation and will keep themselves in the love of God. To those who ask me if they are one of those God has called, I would respond with live your life everyday for Jesus Christ and show that you are. Usually, if you are asking the question, you are on the right track.

            So, what does this look like practically? How do we live every day for Jesus? I think Jude tells us. It’s the first participle. We keep ourselves in the love of God by building ourselves up in our most holy faith. This is synonymous with where he began. Remember? Jude tells the readers to contend for the faith. They are to continue to grow in their understanding of the truth of the gospel. This is the teaching that was handed down to them – the “once for all delivered to the saints” faith. Tom Schreiner writes in his commentary that “believers experience God’s love as their understanding of the faith increases. Affection for God increases not through bypassing the mind but by means of it.”

            This is what we have been experiencing as we have read and discussed “Dug Down Deep.” I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. But as I once again considered the doctrine of my sin and God’s grace in my salvation, it continues to rock me immensely. If we have just a vague sense of sin and a dim view of God, it is unlikely that our love will be that significant or continue to grow. If the message we receive is that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, you will likely view yourself too highly and God not enough.

            Building yourself in your most holy faith will also equip you to be less susceptible to false teachings. Those that remain infants in the faith are easy targets. And this is not merely an individual pursuit. I mentioned recently that we are undertaking our faith as a community project. We build together. This unifies. Consider how this contrasts to false teachers. In the previous verse (v. 19), Jude says that these false teachers cause divisions. So rather than just pointing this out, believers are to strive together to build themselves up in the most holy faith. The best defense is a good offense. As all believers mature, they become more discerning and rooted in their faith. Dug Down Deep! We will continue on this theme of building and growing in the next two weeks as we consider Gospel Growth. So be thinking through your Swordsmanship questions for the weeks ahead. To be continued…

            The second way to keep yourselves in the love of God is to talk to him – pray! In the context, I believe this parallels most closely the words of Paul in Ephesians 6 where he exhorts the church to pray at all times in the Spirit. The context is the armor of God where he tells them to put on shield of faith, helmet of salvation, etc. And so this refers to praying in harmony with the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is simply prayer that is controlled by the Spirit and in line with his character. And that’s something that the false teachers were unable to do because they were devoid of the Spirit (in v. 19).

            And we are to wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. This is nothing other than eschatological hope. It is not simply the mercy shown to us at salvation, but the mercy that will continue until we are ushered into the presence of our Savior. And it is not “twiddling thumbs” waiting. This is eager anticipation. Titus 2:11–13 “11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

            Can you see how “waiting” keeps us in the love of God? We continue to long for the day when Jesus Christ will show us eternal mercy. He will grant us the gift of eternal life and we will be glorified. If we take our eyes off this future hope, love for God will slowly diminish and we will become more enticed by the things of this world. We must stay focused on eternal things. We fix our eyes on the things eternal for the things that are seen are temporary.

And this is our constructive contention. We are not to be those who sit back and merely discern false teachers and their teachings, wag our fingers and condemn. We are called to be active in our own spiritual development. And this will have a minimizing effect on those who cause division and will create unity among the faithful.

Next, we will consider merciful contention. At the outset of the letter Jude wishes mercy on the believers. Next, we saw that we have both received mercy in salvation and anticipate a future mercy that will usher us into eternal life. From this backdrop, Jude commands us to have mercy. In the same way that we have experienced mercy, we have an obligation to exercise it.

What we will see here is what I believe to be three categories of people that serve as the objects of such mercy. There are some within this group of believers that are beginning to doubt. Perhaps they have heard false teachings and they were beginning to contemplate things in their heads. The word does seem to suggest some sort of inner conflict and discernment.

Now what do we do with this? Do we scorn them? Ostracize them? Condemn them? Have mercy on them? So when those in the church begin to consider the teachings of someone outside of orthodoxy, what should we do? We demonstrate mercy. Not by allowing them to continue to pursue this doctrine or lifestyle, but by mercifully showing them the magnificence of “the faith.”  Listen to how Paul puts it to Timothy, 2 Timothy 2:23–26 “23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” Now this refers to opponents. How much more should we show merciful correction to our very own?

The second group seems to be further along down the wrong road. It is possible that they were not merely wrestling with their teachings in their heads but perhaps even beginning to embrace them. Maybe they had even begun to live in this antinomian manner. They were living like pagans. What is the response to them? Cut them off? Abandon them? Save them! Snatch them out of the fire! I tried to put myself in this situation. Would I have written them off? Or pursued them with greater urgency? I hope the latter – especially as I consider the rest of the understanding. They are not without hope! The picture here is that the flames of hell are lapping at their feet, but they are not immersed. They can be snatched from the fire!  James 5:19–20 “19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” At this point they are ever so close to the fire of God’s judgment. Who will snatch them?

Then there is a third group. These are not the false teachers but likely those who have become deeply entrenched in their teaching and lifestyle. Even here the exhortation is to show mercy. Only here it is mercy combined with fear. This group requires that we enter in with a bit of trepidation and discernment. Because these people have become so entrenched, their convictions would serve as temptations for those who would seek to save them. Let me say that again. Their arguments would be convincing, enticing. But our response is not to flee but to engage. One commentator puts the encounter this way: “One cannot rescue people without personal contact, but one must also be cautious that what seduced them does not seduce you. It is quite possible to remain in positive contact and accept a person without at the same time condoning or accepting the person’s sin.” This should come from those who have been meeting the previous criteria: built up in their faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, waiting expectantly for the mercy of the Lord Jesus. They are grounded and discerning.

From the context, it would be likely that this would involve sexual immorality and thus the temptations and lure would be that much more powerful. And so we must engage them and yet “hate the garment stained by the flesh” – as Jude puts it.

In the book of Romans, Paul lays out the relationship between living in the flesh and living by the Spirit. You will find this in chapters 7 and 8 primarily. Romans 7 is an honest depiction of the Apostle’s struggle with his sin nature despite the fact that he is now a believer. As he moves into chapter 8, he recognizes the power available by living in the Spirit. I think Jude here recognizes the ongoing presence and influence of the fleshly nature. And this is the image he seeks to convey when he speaks of hating the garment stained by the flesh. The battle wages on. In Jude 8 he mentions that the false teachers defile the flesh. This provides a connection here.

You can see how this would be challenging. If someone were able to present a convincing argument suggesting that it was really ok to live a sexually immoral lifestyle and be a Christian, you could feel the temptation from your sinful nature. Couldn’t you? “Man, why are you holding to the letter of the law? Jesus was all about grace. Don’t get so wrapped up in details and specifics. Just do what you feel and love Jesus?” What’s not attractive about this? “I can gratify the flesh and still be a Christian?” NO!

It’s not just these types of sins either. Can you see how it takes a bit of “fear” to show mercy to the gossip? Especially if you are prone to gossip? It’s contagious. Don’t indulge the flesh. How about addictions? In showing mercy to those who are sinning it is quite possible to get drawn into their sin.  Galatians 6:1–3 “1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

Next, let’s consider our last point Omnipotent Contention. Here is the bookend. We finish where we started – with God. This is what is known as a doxology. Jude wants to leave his readers with a reminder of the big picture. It’s always about God and his purposes. And he also wants to remind them that ultimately it is God who is the one responsible for the results. He will deal with their opponents and he will assist them until the end.

Jude says that it is to him who is able to keep you from stumbling. The letter began with the indication that believers are called, beloved in God and kept for Jesus Christ. The opponents were kept for judgment. And believers are kept from stumbling. The idea is of protecting or guarding.  John 17:11 “11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” 1 Peter 1:3–5 “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This does not mean that believers no longer sin. Rather, the point is that believers are preserved from committing apostasy. Those who are called will not abandon the faith once and for all. I know that with such a topic, there quickly follows discussion around backsliding. How much time does one need to walk in rebellion against God before he is deemed an unbeliever? The comforting thing to remember is that God has called forth his people and he won’t let them go! Ultimately, we don’t have to make that determination. What we do is have mercy on those who doubt and try to snatch others from the fire. If they don’t respond to the responsibilities of the truth of God’s Word, then you preach the gospel to them – encouraging them to repent and trust in Jesus Christ alone.

Not only will God prevent us from stumbling, he will present us blameless before the presence of his glory. Let that sink in. Can you get your mind around that? Not only are we preserved, we are blameless in his presence. Colossians 1:21–22 “21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” Ephesians 1 says that he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Once his enemies, now seated at his table. And anticipate standing blameless in his presence. Doesn’t this overwhelm you?

Shouldn’t this produce within us what Jude describes next? We are to be presented blameless in his presence with great joy. How can it not? I have to admit something. I am not always as joyful as I should be. You? How is it that we can contain ourselves? Honestly, we shouldn’t be able to. We have been called from darkness to light, eternal punishment to eternal life with the King of Kings. And we walk around moping and complaining. This is crazy!! We should be bursting at the seams! We are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and we will stand in his presence – blameless! With great joy…

And despite political correctness and diversity and tolerance, this God is the only God. It doesn’t get much clearer than the claims of Scripture. 1 Timothy 1:17 17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. Romans 16.27, “to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ. John 17:3 “3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Revelation 15:4 “4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

God is our Creator and our Savior. The fact that he is both brings him the utmost glory. This is accomplished through Jesus Christ our Savior. There is no glory for us. We did nothing. He did everything. To the only God be glory. To him be the majesty, dominion and authority. It is one thing to have dominion (or power) and another to have authority. To have both is essential. I like the illustration one commentator uses to describe the combination. “police officers have power in their physical training and in their service revolver, but their authority is symbolized in their badge. The same power applied in a jurisdiction in which they did not have authority (e.g., on the wrong side of the Canadian-American border) could get them arrested. God has power or strength, but he also has authority, the right to exercise it. Here both are attributed to him, for in him they belong together.”

And he is to be attributed these titles and characteristics for all eternity. Jude closes the letter stating that these truths existed before time itself, in the present, and into all eternity. Amen.

Let me ask you. Would you consider yourself a slave for Jesus Christ? Can you say that you have repented of your sin and trusted in him – giving him your very life? If so, God has promised that he will keep you by his omnipotent power until you stand in his presence for all of eternity. This should produce a life that reflects that reality. You should respond with great joy and exercise mercy to those who struggle. This is a community project that will produce great unity and focus.

If Jesus is not your Master, your Lord, consider this relationship now. Allow me to plead with you that you would once and for all live for him who alone is worthy of your allegiance. Our God is the only God and will not accept any other way to him other than his Son Jesus. Let’s pray.





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